In Part 1 we saw that religiosity is an expression of religion that is based in ourselves rather than the presence and guidance of God; thus Jesus calls it lawlessness and false faith. Acts of religiosity, like those Jesus describes in the passage above, are sourced in our desires and from our reasoning rather than the mind of God. The fact that these works comply with Scripture is not the issue. The issue is where these works originate. These so-called “works of faith” that originate from human wisdom and understanding are acts of lawlessness.
Thankfully, Jesus did not leave us without guidance in how divine works of faith are produced from a fallible human. This guidance comes from His mentoring of the disciples, as He develops them from uneducated, ignorant men to leaders equipped to establish and lead His church.
Jesus knew the disciples had been raised in a culture of religiosity. That culture is clearly evidenced in His dealings with the Jewish leaders and the religious culture of that day. He knew His Church would fail if the disciples were not taught how to live from a relationship with God, rather than obedience to a religious belief system. To accomplish this, Jesus guides the disciples through three distinct stages of spiritual development:
- Stage 1 teaches them that not only is Jesus the Messiah, but what it means for the Messiah to be the Son of the living God. This stage is all about recognizing Jesus’s true identity.
- Stage 2 teaches them how to live in and from the presence of the God they are getting to know through the incarnate Son.
- Stage 3 (in the book of Acts) releases them to serve from a mature oneness with God rather than from compliance to a set of laws.
<Of the synoptic gospels, Matthew gives us the clearest illustration of these three stages. The first stage lasts from the beginning of Matthew through the middle of Chapter 16. In this period the disciples learn the breadth and depth of not only who Jesus is, but that the kingdom He is here to establish is something completely new. That takes time. They see Jesus perform miracles, hear Him teach, and even perform miracles themselves. The disciples are learning about Jesus and the kingdom, but they are not yet walking in it for themselves.
That all begins to change when they enter Caesarea Philippi, the most idol-laden area of ancient Israel. It is a perfect setting for Jesus to ask the question that reveals the goal of Stage 1, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). When Peter answers that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus keys in on one thing. It isn’t that Peter answered correctly. It is that Peter heard this from the Father in heaven. That—hearing the voice of God—is the catalyst to move into Stage 2. Upon that foundation, Jesus can build His Church. He cannot build it upon the wisdom of Peter (that he answered it correctly). He has to build it upon the presence of God in Peter. This was not available in the age of the Law and the Prophets. So there is much to learn here.
What Jesus says next reveals how this will work. He says, “whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The verb tense is critical here. Peter is not doing the binding and loosing. That was already done in heaven. Peter is to be given what to do by God through his ability to hear and discern God’s leading. That is the rock upon which He will build His Church. The rock is not Peter. The rock is Jesus in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is telling Peter, in the typical cryptic style with which He begins a new revelation, that Peter’s job is to learn to hear God and follow His lead. The disciples don’t understand this yet. So the next three scenes are lessons in putting this into action, teaching the disciples how to follow what they hear rather than to act from their own understanding. Each of these scenes counter the three strategies Satan uses to tempt Jesus. If the disciples (including us) get these lessons right, they are on their way to a life of faith that will bear fruit and that Satan cannot subvert.
The first scene (Matthew 16:21-23) parallels the first temptation. Jesus reveals that He will be crucified. Peter doesn’t want this, so he immediately tries to use his new-found authority of binding and loosing and prevent it. Peter is not living by the word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Jesus), but from his own desire. He says, “Forbid it, Lord!” Jesus reveals that Peter is following the lawless one when He says, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Apparently, Satan was trying to use Peter’s love for Jesus to prevent the crucifixion. Jesus responds by teaching the disciples a lesson in humility (16:24-27), because the disciples must learn that God leads in this kingdom, not them. This is teaching them the principle of the first temptation. You live by the words that proceed from the mouth of God. You don’t direct God. You listen to Him and respond to Him.
The second scene, the transfiguration, parallels the second temptation, where Satan took Jesus to a high place to tempt Him to test God. Here, Jesus takes the three core disciples—Peter, James, and John— to a mountaintop to strengthen their faith so they would not need to test God in the future. If you are going to follow the word you receive from God, you must have faith in the One who is giving the word. So Jesus removes the veil and lets them see His full glory.
This is a highly symbolic scene. Moses is also present, representing the fulfillment of the law, along with Elijah, representing the fulfillment of the prophets. The apostles are now the focus. This represents the transition to the Church Age, in which everyone can have the Holy Spirit in their hearts to teach and guide them. But Peter still hasn’t learned his lesson! Again, he acts from his own initiative saying, “Lord, it is good to be here. I will make three tabernacles …” This time the Father gets in on the act and says, in effect, “Peter! You still don’t get it! This is My Son! Listen to Him! You don’t lead Him; you follow!”
The third scene, paralleling the third temptation, extends the lesson to all of the disciples. In the third temptation, Satan attempted to become Jesus’s lord and control him. In this scene the disciples learn how to defeat Satan’s control over one of Jesus’s children. It is time for Jesus to remove the training wheels from Stage 1 and give them a real world lesson in dealing with demons. Prior to this, they would speak to a demon and it would leave. That was as a testimony that the Messiah is the Son of God. Now, they cannot remove a demon out of a young boy.
This is where they begin to learn that the issue is the kingdom of God in the heart, not the demon. This demon is rooted in a damaged heart, but the disciples cannot see this through human eyes. When Jesus casts this demon out, He also heals the boy’s heart, “makes him whole” in the Greek. The two go together. When the broken heart is healed, the enemy loses his place. When the disciples ask Jesus why they could not cast the demon out, Jesus tells them they needed to talk with His Father—they needed to pray. (The words about fasting are not included in any of the original manuscripts of this story.) These men are being trained to see their work in the kingdom through the eyes of God, not man.
In this story, Jesus is demonstrating something that needs to be understood by many people today. Spiritual authority always remains with and flows from the Father. It works through us. It doesn’t belong to us. Even Jesus did not claim His own authority or act on His own initiative (John 5:30). The Holy Spirit does not act on His own initiative either. He takes what Jesus give Him and gives it to us (John 16:13-14). In the Trinity, everything works in submission to the Father. The Father works through the Son and Spirit. We don’t work outside of those boundaries and act is if we are separately endowed with our own authority.
Another misconception is that spiritual authority is about battling Satan. We see clearly in Matthew Chapters 16 and 17 that authority is about the kingdom of God. God doesn’t build authority around Satan. He doesn’t build anything around Satan. If He did, Satan could indirectly control the kingdom of God by stirring things up that God must respond to! God builds authority around Himself and uses it for for His purposes. If you feel you are dealing with something demonic, your job is still to hear and respond to God, not demons. When the Kingdom of God is established by acts that flow straight from the Father through us, Satan is uprooted. That is the authority the gates of hell cannot prevail against!
The most damaging issue with religiosity is the burden it puts on people. We assign responsibility for the effectiveness of our Christian life to ourselves. If things don’t work out, we end up blaming ourselves, which is exactly what Satan wants—follow a false path and then blame yourself when it doesn’t work. God never constructs a path that leads us to a place of self-condemnation or a feeling of failure. God removes burdens and leads us to freedom, not performance bondage.
Another means for disappointment is the belief that the conviction or steadfastness of our faith determines whether something we believe happens. That is not what Jesus taught that having enough faith means. Jesus’s faith was exercised as agreement with what the Father showed him. Faith does not start with us. It is a response to God, not a controller of Him.
With all this said, please do not over-interpret this. You don’t need, and should not try, to hear God for every little decision in your life. Attempting to do this will only create anxiety and confusion. You are His child, not a controlled servant. Your first and main “job” is to know your Father. Look for His heart in the Bible. Take your time to get to know His ways. He is never less than attentive to you or your life. If you don’t hear Him about something, don’t worry about it. He heard you. He just doesn’t need to speak. When He does need to speak to you, rest assured, He will.
Learning to hear God can be a process, just as it was with the disciples. The better you know Him, His character, and His heart, the better you will hear. Seek Him before seeking results. When you listen, remember that God doesn’t always speak with words. Often He speaks through impressions, which can communicate more breadth and depth than words. Sometimes God communicates through His actions, so pay attention to what He does.
If you know you are not hearing God about something, don’t sweat it. He is the One who speaks. There is no pressure to hear. Trying to force things usually ends up hearing incorrectly. If He is not speaking, just move forward doing what you believe to be right. However, if you are consistently struggling to hear God, you may need some mentoring from a believer who has walked this path ahead of you. Sometimes when the voice of God is genuinely blocked or very difficult to discern, it is because of our own brokenness. Brokenness can completely shut down our ability to hear God, or make it inconsistent at best. It can have enough power to throw an entire life out of balance.
Binding up the brokenhearted (the promise of Isaiah 61:1) is actually a process of creating intimacy with God. That was the first public promise made by Jesus for a reason. He wants to live close to the hearts of His children. His ultimate mission is to restore our hearts to Him so that we all know Him intimately.